Tips for producing beautifully scanned drawings?
December 18, 2019 8:48 AM   Subscribe

I am doing a series of drawings and scanning them to put into a blog, as seen here.

I’ve done a few, on plain white paper with #2 pencil. I scanned them with an ordinary HP scanner I have and they have dark shadows on them and just don’t look good. (As you scroll down they get worse.) I want to know what I might be doing wrong and how to make them so that they scan clear. Any tips appreciated re: paper, medium, resolution and other scanner settings, anything. If necessary, I would go to a place to have them scanned with a better scanner. Thanks.
posted by DMelanogaster to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Pencil drawings are hard to scan! You might even get better results by taking a photograph. You will probably need to clean things up a bit with a photo editing program. The fastest and easiest way I’ve found to get drawings online is to use ink, so the contrast is already greater, and then turn it up even farther (even just with instagram works) until the paper is all white. Your work looks really great! It is definitely worthwhile taking the time to get the documentation looking good.
posted by velebita at 9:16 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yes, if you have photo editing software, turn up the brightness and the contrast until you get the best image.
posted by tmdonahue at 9:27 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

These are great! Your characters have nice attitude and expressions. Nice storytelling, too.

Agree that pencil is hard to scan. Your best bet would be to fiddle with the contrast and brightness in an editing program. If you're going to be doing a lot of this, it may be worth investing in Photoshop Elements (about $70). This is what I use. It will allow you to crop, adjust size-hue-brightness etc, and even apply some fun filters. I have used a couple of the free image editing programs but have gotten viruses when updating. Maybe someone here can recommend an updated, trustworthy one.

Many of the images from your link actually look good. It's the writing that is a bit faded so you might consider paying a bit more attention to pencil pressure when doing that part. Also, when scanning, be extra sure the cover is tightly closed - you might even want to put light pressure on the top - to help with the shadows.
posted by Glinn at 9:29 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

See linked edited image. I did this with Photoshop. First I made a copy on a separate layer. The top layer I set for vivid light, then added an adjustment layer to that top copy, and used the gradient tool to make the bottom inch or so of grey disappear. Flattened image. This is hard to describe in language but once you get the hang of Photoshop, it's straightforward. Edited Image.
posted by tmdonahue at 9:38 AM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

OH, and the little patch of grey on the bottom left corner you could erase with the eraser tool, the background color set to white.
posted by tmdonahue at 9:41 AM on December 18, 2019

First, thanks for the compliments (I'm shocked -- I think they look like a crowded mess of misshapen images and text, but...thanks). Next..I don't understand about Photoshop or another image editor (I've used Photoshop,, etc, for other things) . Are you saying scan the image and THEN clean up with Photoshop? Or take a photo of the image with my phone and clean THAT up and skip the scanner? I'm not clear.
posted by DMelanogaster at 9:49 AM on December 18, 2019

If you have a book or something else flat, that can help sort of 'anchor' the surface of the drawing to the glass of the scanner - I'm guessing the shadows are where the paper's not quite touching the glass uniformly. Sometimes the flatbed cover isn't consistently flat, so that pushes part of the paper to the glass more closely than the other parts, resulting in these odd shadowy parts here and there.

But yeah, for a "cleaner"-looking scan, you'll want to adjust brightness and contrast settings with an image-editing program of some kind. There's some freebie programs out there, depending on your computer's OS. If you have a Mac, for example, you can actually get a lot of basic brightness and contrast done with Preview or Photos (two of the default apps).

What settings are you currently using on your scanner?
posted by rather be jorting at 9:49 AM on December 18, 2019

Just saw your follow-up!

> Are you saying scan the image and THEN clean up with Photoshop? Or take a photo of the image with my phone and clean THAT up and skip the scanner? I'm not clear.

You can do both! Scan, then edit in Photoshop or whatever other program you have. Or, take a picture (that skips the scanner), then edit w/ an app on your phone, like you would for a photo (move a slider for brightness, move a slider for contrast).
posted by rather be jorting at 9:52 AM on December 18, 2019

First, if possible, use the heaviest drawing paper you can, to avoid the page warping or wrinkling. Get some dense foam (about an inch or half an inch thick) and cut it to exactly the size of the glass on your scanner. Put your drawings down, then the foam, then close the scanner lid as tightly as possible. Scan with very high brightness and contrast settings. This may provide good enough results that you don't need to do much photoshopping, but if you do, the freeware programs or GIMP should suffice for what you want to do. No need to pay for Photoshop or even Elements.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:06 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Just a thought, you might try to Google up 'whiteboard photo cleanup' or similar. There are quite a few workflows people have created for taking pictures of whiteboard notes/drawings/etc and cleaning them up into nice graphics. Like Whiteboard Picture Cleaner - Shell one-liner/script to clean up and beautify photos of whiteboards! · GitHub, or the 'whiteboard' script from Fred's ImageMagick Scripts.

These tend to use ImageMagick (cross platform) and scripts to just do batch cleanup on a group of photos/scans assuming that the background is white and enhancing everything else.

If nothing else, probably a good starting place before you go and use Photoshop or something to do final touchups.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:48 AM on December 18, 2019

Seconding using your phone to photograph. I've had good luck "scanning" a pencil drawing by taking a photo with my cell phone -
1. Find a diffused, even light that doesn't leave any weird shadows on the paper (it may take some creativity to not have your hand+phone cast a shadow)
2. Like everyone else has said, use your in-phone photo editing apps to play with exposure, up the contrast, and either turn saturation way low or just convert it to a black and white image
posted by blueberrypuffin at 10:51 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Another thing you could do is scan at very high resolution (1200 dpi), then use a Threshold filter.
posted by the_blizz at 11:20 AM on December 18, 2019

Seconding rather be jorting. I draw on butter paper as I normally develop a final drawing from a series of layers. IDK what it's called overseas, it's a super lightweight, tough, translucent and fine grained and takes pencil, colour pencil, inks... and I've started printing (some printers won't play well though) on it recently as the effect looks softer and almost hand-drawn.

I put my butterpaper drawing on the platten and back it with 5 sheets of white paper and then the heaviest book I can find. This means the lid won't close so I throw a jacket over it to block light. This seems to eliminate most\all the shadows a normal scan produces.
posted by unearthed at 12:42 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

You can just take pictures of them with your camera phone, and get it lit right, then you have a .jpg, those are useful, and better than scanned images. I have an older phone, with a 12.5 mp camera, I photograph artwork with it, and post to blogs all the time. You just have to get the light right, like do it near a window in the morning, or under a full spectrum light fixture, taking care not to cast shadows on your work.
posted by Oyéah at 8:18 PM on December 18, 2019

Here are some suggestions based on my (limited, hobbyist) personal experience:

1. Are these scaled down, or is this the full resolution of the scans? You should scan them at a much higher resolution than this. Only scale down the final, clean image.

2. Don't save line art as JPEGs. The algorithm produces artefacts around sharp edges, and this is a particularly poor use case for it. Use PNG instead.

3. Pen drawings are easier to clean up than pencil, but pencil is not impossible. I use the GIMP, which is an open source Photoshop-alike, but if you have Photoshop you'll find the same features that I use. First I would recommend using the levels tool rather than brightness / contrast to adjust what is white and what is black -- it's less lossy. Try playing around with that first -- try the "auto" button, and if that doesn't give you a good result, try moving the sliders manually.

4. If there are blotches or speckles on the background which can't be removed automatically and have to be cleaned up manually, you can either erase them by hand or try the magic wand trick: use the magic wand selection tool to select as much of the background as you can without selecting any lines, then grow the selection (to "eat" the speckles), then shrink the selection (to pull away from the line edges), then use the lasso selection tool to manually add or subtract any stubborn bits which escaped the previous step, then feather the selection (so that you fade more gradually from the gray around the line edges to the white background instead of getting an abrupt pixelated transition), then delete (with white as the background colour). You can play around with various settings for the growing, shrinking and feathering -- what radius you should use depends on the resolution of the image.

5. Optionally, turn these bitmap images into vector images. I would normally only do this if the drawings were going to be printed, but apparently support for SVGs is pretty good in browsers now, so it may also be a good idea for images that are going to be published online. Vector images will look crisp and nice at any resolution. I use Inkscape to do this -- it has a "trace bitmap" feature which is pretty good at vectorising this kind of line art. The bitmap image has to be reasonably clean for it to work well. Once you have the vector image, you can also fix various kinds of things at this stage which would be annoying to do with a bitmap -- smoothing / simplifying the paths, removing segments, etc.. I'm not familiar with other vector drawing programs (e.g. Illustrator), but I would expect them to offer similar functionality.
posted by confluency at 7:13 AM on December 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

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